The 12-strong longlist for this year's Spread the Word Life Writing Prize has been announced, with the prize is open to UK residents who do not have an agent or have yet to publish a full-length work.
Selected from nearly 900 submissions, the longlist features themes of immigration, #MeToo and the NHS.
This year’s submissions were judged by writers Kerry Hudson and Nell Stevens, and journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera.
Ruth Harrison, director of Spread the Word, said: “Now, more than ever, there is value in shared stories, reflecting on what brings us together and what distinguishes us. We can't wait to publish the online booklet and showcase these remarkably talented writers with you in June.
“During this unprecedented time, Spread the Word is committed to continuing our support for new and emerging writers, opening up space for connection and creativity, through offering free online workshops for writers in isolation.”
Joanna Brown's homage to her mother, Birds Can Be Heard Singing through Open Windows, tells "the story of their relationship before and after her death". It is joined on the list by Down Ashton, written by Stephen Crawley, who remembers a shopping trip to Ashton-under-Lyme market, where he nearly got into a car with the moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Elena Croitoru's On Sigma Algebras explores identity and estrangement in the post-communist era, and "how emigrating affects these issues and our relationships with our families".
Describing the difficulties of "meeting an absent parent for the first time" is Maxine Davies' Dad's Home, joined by "psychogeography" exploration The Spoon Garden by Ruby Eastwood.
Lorelei Goulding's work Birdie reflects on "how shame is born, but also how it can be countered", while Palingenesis by Sue Hann looks at the connection between the life of artist Lee Krasner and her own.
Josh Holton's Death and Birdwatching is extracted from the author's novel about writing his father eulogy, and his relationship with an ornithologist. Equally concerned with death is For the Flesh is Sour by Laurane Marchive, a reflection on her grandmother's death, grief and "her experience of life through the medium of videos".
North of the River by Carla Montemayor interweaves the author's stories with those of her mother, tracing history, war and migration from the Philippines and the United Kingdom. S R Shah's Mink Lashes describes the experience of a Muslim wedding, and "tentatively" rebuilding a relationship with their mother, while This is a Story About Friendship by Nicky Watkinson, a "hybrid work exploring friendship and narrative form through the lenses of cultural analysis", completes the line-up.
Of the list, Sanghera said: "It's a cliché to say with awards that ‘the standard was very high’ – and my recent experience with literary prizes is that it's not even always true. But the standard here was genuinely very high … It's great that this award exists to encourage new writers and I'm sure several of these will become professionals."
The winner will be announced on 3rd June and will receive £1,500, an Arvon creative writing course, a writing mentor, two years’ membership of the Royal Society of Literature and a development meeting with an agent and editor. Two highly commended writers will receive a writing mentor and £500.
Nominated mentors this year include Max Porter, Colin Grant and Kerri Ní Dochartaigh.
A booklet featuring the 12 longlisted writers and their work will be published online and in PDF format, to coincide with the winner announcement.
The planned ceremony at Foyles Charing Cross Road in June has been cancelled, as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and social distancing measures.
Spread the Word will also be offering writers free opportunities to explore life writing, writing for wellbeing and nature writing led by Kerry Hudson, Kerri Ní Dochartaigh and poet and counsellor Jasmine Ann Cooray. Registration for these will be open in the coming weeks.